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In Closing Arguments, Prosecutors Say Tazhayakov Sought To Protect Tsarnaev

BOSTON — Jurors heard closing arguments Wednesday in the Boston Marathon bombing obstruction of justice case against Azamat Tazhayakov. Prosecutors charge Tazhayakov interfered with the FBI’s investigation of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The Closing Arguments

This complex, emotionally charged case can be reduced to four basic questions:

  1. What was taken from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dorm room at UMass Dartmouth hours after pictures of the bombing suspect were made public?
  2. Who took the items?
  3. Why?
  4. And what did they do with them?
In this May 13 file courtroom sketch, defendant Azamat Tazhayakov sits during a hearing in federal court in Boston.  (Jane Flavell Collins/AP)

In this May 13 file courtroom sketch, defendant Azamat Tazhayakov sits during a hearing in federal court in Boston. (Jane Flavell Collins/AP)

In his summation federal prosecutor John Capin told jurors that it was a backpack containing emptied fireworks and Tsarnaev’s laptop that were removed; that it was Tazhayakov and another friend of Tsarnaev’s from Kazakhstan who took them; that they did so because they knew hours before Tsarnaev’s name was made public that he was a suspect and were trying to help their college friend; and that they agreed to toss the backpack into a dumpster.

Prosecutors relied heavily on FBI testimony to make their case. Federal agents interviewed Tazhayakov and said he admitted his role.

But defense attorney Matthew Myers said the agent’s testimony was contradictory and inconsistent, that they relied on handwritten notes and never recorded their interrogations of Tazhayakov, who was brought in for questioning at gunpoint, handcuffed and stripped but not arrested.

Intent To Obstruct?

Myers does acknowledge his client was in Tsarnaev’s dorm room.

“I mean, the mind of a kid who is smoking some pot and not doing well in school is not the same intense, efficient mind of some lawyer, and you get inside a courtroom and some jurors, you hope, bring their real-life experience to that,” he said. “People react differently to different situations, but 19-year-old kids don’t do the responsible thing all the time.”

But the defense says it was another friend of the accused bomber, Dias Kadyrbayev, who received the text from Tsarnaev that read, “If you want you can go to my room and take what you want.” And it was Kadyrbayev who took the computer and backpack.

Tsarnaev’s roommate testified he saw Tazhayakov take only a pair of headphones that belonged to him. And Myers went to great lengths to tell jurors what the friends left behind in the dorm room: a white hat Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly wore at the marathon finish line.

“And if they had intent to try to obstruct the government, wouldn’t that be the first thing you want to take to sever the connection?” Myers said. “Yeah, I’d take that white hat, I’d secrete it somewhere and make sure Dzhokhar was in the clear and there wouldn’t be a connection to his room.”

Federal Judge Douglas Woodlock took over an hour — an unusually long time — to instruct the jury. Repeatedly he told jurors not to consider the marathon bombing or Tazhayakov guilty because of his association with the suspected bomber.

“The burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the judge said, “is strict and heavy and entirely the government’s. The defense doesn’t have to prove anything.”

“But guilty,” Woodlock told the jury, “doesn’t mean beyond all possible doubt.”

Jurors hold their first full day of deliberations Thursday.

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